For a season that has lasted months, the defining moment will transpire on one day in a matter of minutes. Both the men’s and women’s crew teams race on May 13 in their respective conference championships, hoping to earn a bid to the national championships.
Due to fickle weather, both teams faced a season unlike any other. Without consistent water time, the crews were forced to adapt on the fly.
While the technical aspects of rowing are difficult to master outside of the boat, the added adversity may act as a blessing in disguise.
The perseverance and toughness gained by dealing with difficult circumstances can only help the crews in a sport in which a mental edge can make all the difference on the race course.
The crews faced their final regattas of the season in preparation for their biggest test of the year.
The women’s team traveled to South Carolina for the Clemson Invitational on April 22-23 for their final regular season regatta.
The event provided the perfect tune-up opportunity as the regatta featured 21 Division I teams, including No. 4 Ohio State, No. 5 Texas, No. 10 Virginia, No. 11 Wisconsin and familiar foe No. 14 Washington State.
On Saturday, April 22, Gonzaga entered eight total races. The varsity eight, second varsity eight, varsity four and second varsity four all raced twice.
The varsity eight finished their first race in sixth place at 6:38.397, one second faster than host Clemson. In their second race, they improved their time and position, placing fifth at 6:34.828, just one second behind No. 19 Duke.
The second varsity eight finished fifth in their first race at 6:40.981. Later in the day, they dropped seven seconds yet finished fourth because Navy interfered with GU during the race, which placed Navy behind the Bulldogs.
The Zags’ varsity four put in an impressive performance in their first race, finishing third at 7:23.082, beating No. 15 Syracuse, Tennessee, No. 20 Indiana and Clemson. The second varsity four also finished third in their first race at 7:28.945.
“The varsity four and second varsity eight had really solid races in the morning,” coach Glenn Putyrae said. “The performance was not great from the varsity eight, as they were a bit frantic and disjointed and did not stay within themselves. We dug a hole in the morning, but the varsity eight had a much better race in the afternoon.”
On the final day of racing, the varsity eight claimed the C Final at 6:40.432, defeating Navy by three seconds. It was the first win at the Clemson Invitational for the Zags in program history.
The second varsity eight raced in the B Final and took fifth at 6:55.417, two seconds faster than No. 18 Louisville. In the varsity four B Final, the Zags finished fourth at 7:43.273, less than a second behind UCLA.
“We were pleased to be able to finish the weekend with solid racing in great conditions, and while we wanted to finish higher in the team standings, we did all we could to place as high as possible,” Putyrae said. “Knowing that this was our last opportunity to race prior to the West Coast Conference Championships, it was important to make progress and gain valuable racing experience. We felt that all of the crews did a good job committing to each other, and that served them well in some very tight racing.”
The Zags head to Lake Natoma for the WCC Championships on May 13.
With a win, the Bulldogs will automatically qualify for the NCAA Championships at Lake Mercer, New Jersey on May 26-28.
The men’s crew competed in the Kerr Cup in Philadelphia on April 15, the second time the Zags have entered the event in program history.
The second varsity eight outperformed the varsity eight during the heats, finishing 6:34.05, which placed the boat in the grand final. The varsity eight struggled in their heat, finishing 6:42.30, which placed the crew in the petite final.
However, the roles reversed in the finals where the second varsity eight dropped more than ten seconds to place last in the grand final. The varsity eight finished fifth in the petite final, improving their time by 12 seconds at 6:30.15.
“The varsity eight didn’t row well in the second thousand meters of either race,” coach Dan Gehn said. “I was hoping to take some steps forward this weekend but we still have work to do. The second varsity eight did a great job making the final. That was their best race to date.”
In their final regular season regatta, the Zags returned home for the annual Fawley Cup against Washington State.
For the second consecutive year, the Bulldogs swept the Cougars in all four races, an encouraging sign heading into the Western Sprints.
The varsity eight bettered their time from the Kerr Cup, finishing at 6:29.9, seven seconds quicker than WSU. The second varsity eight came in at 6:29.14, a dramatic improvement compared to their time at Silver Lake against Oregon State on March 26, where the Zags finished 6:46.29.
The novice crews also found success, with the eight clocking in at 6:35.27, 22 seconds better than the Cougars. The four finished at 7:51.48, beating WSU by 13 seconds.
Next up, the Bulldogs race at Lake Natoma for the Western Sprints on May 13. GU hopes to qualify for the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) National Championships, also at Lake Natoma, for the first time since 2014.
Justin Wiens is a staff writer. Follow him on Twitter: @jwiens17.